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Explosive devices slow Marines in Karabila

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In this picture released by the U.S. Marines, Iraqi soldiers and Marines hand out toys to children in Husayba.

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HUSAYBA, Iraq (CNN) -- As Operation Steel Curtain moved into day seven, the U.S. and Iraqi militaries had little direct contact with insurgents early Friday but faced plenty of danger on the streets of Karabila.

According to CNN's Arwa Damon, who is embedded with U.S. troops taking part in the operation, advances through western Karabila slowed to a crawl as troops picked through a "literal minefield" of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

One Marine commander called the IEDs a "very effective enemy," saying they "can lay in wait for days, months and years," not needing food or water.

Only a few hundred yards apart, Marines found two bomb-making factories filled with vast supplies of bomb-making supplies, including electronics parts, explosives and wires, along with propane tanks and mortar rounds primed to explode. The troops also found sniper rifles and a suicide bomber's vest.

Thursday afternoon, a Marine was killed and an Iraqi soldier was wounded when an IED detonated. In addition, Marines and Iraqi soldiers discovered three air-to-surface missiles hidden underneath a room filled with hay.

During the first phase of Steel Curtain, troops focused on Husayba, a town insurgents are believed to have used as a base -- and a conduit into and out of Syria. Major sweeps there ended Monday.

Marines entered Karabila early Thursday afternoon, discovering and detonating a car bomb and a warehouse that had been wired to explode.

Operation Spear pushed through Karabila in June, when Marines freed four Iraqis -- one a border policeman -- who had been kidnapped, tortured and left chained to a wall. But the U.S. military says unlike the previous operation, Steel Curtain will create a permanent Iraqi army presence in Karabila.

Some Marines and the Iraqi army remained in Husayba, conducting "back clearing" -- returning to areas already swept to conduct patrols, execute fresh searches and talk with residents.

And the Iraqi army accompanied civilians up the road from their new base camp in the southern part of Husayba -- the most fortified part of town -- where they helped recover the body of a 10-year-old boy from the dusty rubble of a house destroyed Monday by a U.S. air strike.

He was the last of 17 victims pulled from the debris at that site.

At least 24 civilians from four families died in airstrikes Monday in a neighborhood even the residents admit has been a haven for insurgents, although they questioned why the military bombed buildings in a residential area.

The U.S. military said it takes "careful and deliberate actions to minimize collateral damage" and uses airstrikes only when it is determined necessary, and does not deliberately bomb buildings if there is hard evidence civilians are inside.

A CNN crew Thursday morning went with the Iraqi soldiers who carried out the grim task of burying the dead from the destroyed houses. In anguish, the Iraqis pulled back shroud after shroud to show the team that the victims were nearly all women and children.

They asked, "Why?" and they cried.

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